Hi Ben what's going on? Thanks for hooking the mugs up for us. They came out amazing.
No sweat, was a really nice project to work on!
What was the process making them start to finish?
So they’re quite traditional in form, simple terracotta clay, thrown on a kick wheel. I then wait about 2 days for them to become what we call ‘leather hard’ in ceramics and turn the bases, attache the handles and add the white ‘slip’ which is basically liquid clay to the exterior. The pot then drys out for another week or so before I carve the illustrations into the slip through a technique called ‘sgrafitto’. This is a great technique as the colour of the clay body beneath the decoration becomes part of the design, and so utilises that negative space really nicely. The pots then dry out for another two weeks fully till there’s no water present or ‘bone dry’. They then go through the first firing up to 1000 degrees Celsius in the kiln for around 20 hours. This is called a bisque firing, and turns the clay from mud into a porous ceramic material. The mugs are now dipped into a big bucket of clear glaze, dry off for a day, and then the bases have all the glaze sponged off so not to stick to the kiln for their second firing. I Then put the mugs in the kiln and take them up to 1200 degrees for the glaze firing, which is higher than the terracotta clay would normally be taken, but this is what gets the darker brown shades in the mugs. The whole process takes around 4 weeks with drying (even longer with the wet winter we’ve been having!) but totally worth the results when you open the lid on the final firing.
You seem busy! What have you been working on?
Yeah it’s been a weirdly packed year! I’ve been working on pottery collections which are a body of work over the course of a couple of months building up to drop sales. The first one was so popular I was really taken aback, so I’ve kept that system to create new stuff. The last one sold out in just under 40 mins which is ludicrous to me, it’s like pottery glasto or something haha, but I’m mega chuffed there is a market for the art I’m making!
How long have you been doing this?
I’d say around 4 years on and off. It has kind of just depended on whether I had an appropriate space to work in at the time. Pottery is SO messy haha.
How did you get into it?
I actually did a couple of lessons in a pub in Brighton, which was a really nice way to dip your toe in. I’d been into buying ceramics and reading about them for a while so it seemed like a natural progression. When I moved back North after my degree in Brighton I bought an old kick-wheel from a school that was closing down for about £100 and set it up in one of my parents’ sheds. I kind of just taught myself from there really! The brilliant thing about clay as a medium is the material totally informs what you do, you are constantly battling gravity, geology and chemistry so those restrictions help to make decisions for you.
Whats your favourite material to work with / Favourite product to make? I love the brown clay stuff. Proper 70's vibes.
Yeah I love old earthernware stuff, English slipware, just super practical but with a kind of strange folk-art quality. The messier the better! And then recently I’ve been really getting into very smooth white earthenware as a clay body too, it gives you a great canvas to make more vibrant colours in pieces.
You work out of your garden shed right? Thats cool.
Yeah we recently moved house and there is a brilliant 1950’s brick shed with electricity at the bottom of the garden. It currently doesn’t have plumbing which is a bit of a pain as I trapse clay through the house to clean at the kitchen sink haha. A lot of houses in Sheffield have shared gardens too so luckily we have really nice neighbours who don’t mind me drying boards of pots in the sun, or pushing open the doors when it’s nice weather!
Whats the favourite item you've made?
Currently I’m really into this process thats applying a really blue cobalt slip to large white eathernware vases and then carving intricate illustrations in. There’s a piece that I absolutely loved pre-firing called ‘deep ache’. When it came out there was a massive crack down the middle of if, but it still remained as a singular piece. I’ve kept that one as I kind of like that the material has mirrored the writing on the pot.
You're in a band too right? Just released your new album?
Yeah I’m in a band called Mr Ben & the Bens, me and my old housemates go on tours around the UK in a little van together. I’ve been self-releasing stuff for about 7 years, and then I put about 4 records out on a label I run with my mates called ‘Bingo Records’. I just recently signed to Bella Union so my first studio LP ‘Life Drawing’ came out this summer. It was a really weird time to put a big record out, and there was a load plans / tours cancelled that would’ve been an amazing bolster to the release but apart from that it seems to be going down well. Keeping my head up!
What are you listening to right now?
Ivor Cutler, Jack Name, The Oldham Tinkers.
You can purchase a one off hand made Mr Ben x Tomorrow Ceramic Mug here.